Taming your inner critic and imposter-syndrome at the start of the university year
Written by Revd Dr Harriet Harris, University Chaplain.
Imposter syndrome and our inner critic run wild at university, especially at moments of new challenge, such as starting a new course in a new place. Our Imposter syndrome tells us we shouldn’t be here, that we’ve fooled everyone into giving us a place, that they let us in by mistake and will soon find out that we are a fraud.
Our inner critic, who is like an internal auditor, may be telling us that we are stupid to have come to the University, or that we are stupid to be listening to the Imposter messages!
This September we ran an induction session, How to tame your inner critic as you gear up for your course. We looked at ways to get our inner critic working for us rather than against us.
Click here to view a recording of that session.
It proved to be such a live topic for people, that I am writing this mini-blog to respond to two of the questions that are perhaps the most pertinent for you right now.
The two questions you asked, that I want to address as you start this academic year
- ‘What if you are suffering imposter syndrome right now, as you start university?’
I’m sure everyone on the call was grateful for this question: it speaks immediately to the moment, and captures how most people are feeling.
The best thing to know, if you are feeling imposter syndrome right now, is that imposter syndrome is a sign that you are stepping up and out. Congratulations!
Your imposter doubts and hesitations do not mean that you should not be here. They mean that you have stepped beyond your known capabilities, and are feeling the inevitable discomfort of moving forward. Feel the doubt, and show up anyway. There is lots of support and inspiration to help you do that in these two blogs: Imposter Syndrome at University and Imposter Syndrome is back
- ‘What if you tell your inner critic “I’ve got this”, but then you get criticised by someone else?’
There will always be criticism, and much of it useful. Some criticism will be given to us by people who know how to give feedback constructively, and some will not. We want our inner critic to be a helpful inner teacher; a trustworthy guide, who helps us to feel ok when we are criticised, to learn from difficult feedback, and to stabilise ourselves in the face of destructive criticism so that we create space within ourselves before we decide how to respond.
There was a tragic case a few years ago of a mother and grandmother pushing over their toddler son/grandson, and shouting at him again and again not to be a baby. They captured this on video, and the case made the national news. When the mother was asked why she was treating her son in this way, she said ‘Because he has to learn to stand up to bullies.’ The mother was behaving like our inner critic can behave: terrified that we will be bullied, the critic gets in their first so that no one else can harm us.
Strange as it may sound, the job of our inner critic is to protect us, just as our imposter syndrome wants to protect us. When our inner critic is frightened, as it often is, its protection strategies can become very harsh, just like the frightened mother of the toddler. The mother needed re-educating. She needed to learn that we stand up to bullies when we know what healthy relationships are like. Our inner critic needs a similar re-education. Let your inner critic know that you appreciate its concern, and what you need from it is not reactive panic and judgement but something more like good parenting. Taming our inner critic is a matter of finding the wise and compassionate voice within ourselves.